Monthly Archives: April 2015

Elected officials, parking rules, emerging economy and other random thoughts

Remember when writing a 250 word essay in school was torture? Yeah. That wasn’t me. Really? 250 is all we get? Dang, how am I going to fit what’sImage result for essay in my head to only 250 words? Well through the power of the blog, I can now fill up three times that amount with no restrictions. Except your attention span. Which is already 70 words in…

First impressions, second thoughts, and the third degree…
(a tribute to one of my Madison-based sportswriter heroes, Andy Baggot)

My first impressions of our State Legislative the last 80 some days range from puzzling, to interesting, to frustrated, to grateful. My background of state politics is fraught with filibusters, procedural roadblocks and power hungry legislators who use their committee positions to further the party’s agenda. While the actual structure of the North Dakota Legislature is curious (so many legislators representing so few residents) and the process is a bit outdated (meeting 80 days every other year), I did find the people part of the experience most enjoyable. In my opinion, the biggest challenge facing North Dakotans isn’t the price of a barrel of oil. Rather it will be whether the very real NDEast vs NDWest divide will grow wider, or whether we can build some political and economic bridges to benefit residents and businesses in the long run.

It appears the City Commission has second thoughts about enforcing the newly created parking ordinances. These laws were not passed in haste, nor treated lightly. More money and time was spent designing a solution between the past (everything should be free) and costly state of the art, electronic metering. It appears the new ordinances will be enforced after Main Street construction improvements are completed. Last year the streets were in shambles from July through November. Word is now they will start in May and be done at the end of July. We’ll keep an eye on that for sure..

Today my third degree drills (pun intended) down into the main stream media, social blogosphere and anyone else who tries to “report” or “cover” the economy in Northwest North Dakota.

  • The “boom” tag is no longer valid. You can stop using the term boomtown in present tense. Using it in a headline or tagline to snare readership or in the case of the Smithsonian Channel, viewership – is nothing more than sensationalism. Ditto goes for using the word “bust.”
  • Image result for captain obviousNewsflash from Captain Obvious: In a city of 35,000, there is crime – no matter where that city is located, and it’s not confined to an oil town in North Dakota. Continually pounding on the negative is getting old, and actually does a disservice to the business owners and residents.
  • Don’t ask a city official if things have slowed down now that we’re in a bust economy. Hey Chicago reporter: get your backside out here for a week. Then ask if there is any slowdown here. How many cities of 35,000 can open five new restaurants in four months of a so-called slowdown? Please.
  • Lastly – do your research before you hit publish. Get out here. Talk to business owners, city officials, major companies. You’ll soon find out that while the echoes of ‘boom’ have faded into the badlands, the crunch and grinding and diesel engines you hear is the City being moved by another economy…an emerging economy.

I wasn’t going to use the blog to rant, but it’s hard to refrain sometimes.

The transition from boomtown to hometown continues. Stay tuned for the next few seasons to see what happens.

 – Sjm


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Leadership Williston – Chamber Cornerstone Program nears two decades of education, leadership and friendship

This Wednesday (4/22) the Chamber’s Leadership Williston program will hold its project presentations and graduation lunch. Thirteen local leadersLeadership Logo will receive the LW lapel pin, as it has been the tradition for almost 20 years. The list of names and projects is impressive. Everything from youth sports clinics, to health care awareness campaigns to Kid’s Marketplace (coming up next week, btw), to a dog park. Those are lasting legacies these people have left on Williston over the years.

But to me, what’s more impressive is the list of projects which were NOT completed. Some of the most incredible Leadership Williston projects were the ones that just fell short, or the owners of the projects moved, or for some reason ideas that didn’t quite made it to the finish line.What if we went back to that list and added a little oomph to a great idea from 1996, 2001, or last year?

It sounds a little off kilter to go back and finish something that someone else didn’t think it was a priority to complete at the time, or didn’t have the resources (time, talent, or treasure). So why not today? I get the comment quite often from business owners that they would like to ‘be involved’ more in Williston. Of course, I start ticking off the plenitude of ideas, programs, organizations, groups and events that could entertain one’s time and energies. It pains me to realize that some of these worthy groups and events are begging for volunteers and leaders (my own included!).

Maybe we could revisit some of these great Leadership Williston ideas, projects and programs and make them available to people who “want to get involved” and give them a sense of pride, ownership and community. I know, it’s a stretch. But I’ve grown weary of hearing that there is nothing to do in Williston. There’s plenty to do. You just have to raise your hand once in a while. Like our 13 LW graduates did last October.

LW2015 Graduation Pins

This year’s class will carve out its own legacies. Some will be in digital form, some in lasting memories, others in programs that will impact lives for just a fleeting moment. For many, it will be a professional network and friendship that will bond them together in Williston and beyond.

To the nearly 150 LW Alumni, you will welcome 13 more on Wednesday who have brought their own talents and energies to our town. From the business community’s standpoint, we need more leaders and do-ers in Williston who will raise their hand up and not out. The Chamber’s LW program has lasted the test of two decades. So have some of their programs and projects.

Is it your turn?

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New program, new business leaders: Lemonade Day first in North Dakota

My last post expounded on the challenges of being ‘the Chamber’ and sometimes having to say no to a great idea or program. On the flipside, sometimes after all the pros and cons of an idea are vetted by staff and committees and boards; the answer is why not?

John Chin, a business real estate guru and native Floridian, approached me last summer with such a program. In my efforts to revamp, reorganize and reinvigorate the Williston Chamber the past 12 months, I am very hesitant about taking on new programs that sound good, but drain resources, time and funds without providing a member or community benefit. (Hint: read my last post!)

Businesses and business leaders (whom the chamber represents) have an obligation not only to add to the local economy (be profitable) but also to be role models and mentors to the future business leaders – our youth. The Chamber’s Leadership & Education Committee looked at Lemonade Day as a new program to reach our young people in Williston. In the end, we decided to give Lemonade Day a chance in Williston for 2015.

Williston will be the first city in North Dakota to host the program, aimed at young entrepreneurs to learn how to plan, design, build and execute a business plan – a lemonade stand!

Lemonade Day is a strategic learning process that walks youth from a dream to a business plan, while teaching them the same principles required to start any big company. Inspiring kids to work hard and make a profit, they are also taught to spend some, save some and share some by giving back to their community. Launched in Houston, Texas in 2007, Lemonade Day has grown from 2,700 kids in one city to more than 200,000 kids in cities all across the country.

My skepticism soon turned to enthusiasm, not because I love a fresh glass of lemonade, or that youth today need business role models closer to home. The real reason why Lemonade Day fits our Chamber mission is because of several things:

  1. A successful template is already employed elsewhere;
  2. It directly ties our businesses, business leaders, and the spirit of entrepreneurship to Williston’s youth;
  3. Lemonade Day brings a fresh approach to a program (youth entrepreneurship) to a city filled with people from all over the country; and
  4. It’s a community wide program with very few boundaries thus reaching a wider audience with a Chamber program than just current membership.

With volunteer leaders ranging from former mayor Ward Koeser, to John Chin and Drew Baker, to committee leaders Serena Christianson and Christina O’Neill taking the lead, to our Chamber staff; this made perfect sense as a Chamber program this year.

Sponsorships helped offset the license fee and materials. LD materials bags will be distributed next Monday (4/20) and Tuesday (4/21) at the

Lemonade Day kits with lessons and ideas

Lemonade Day kits with lessons and ideas

Chamber office. The kits are free for each student (thanks to the sponsors) and contain the lessons and worksheets to start your own business with a friend or neighbor. Adults play the role of “mentor” to the young enterprising business leaders, and help them with the lessons.

Then on June 14, 2015, all of the lemonade stands are posted around town in a celebration of youth leadership and fun! Local businesses are encouraged to host to a lemonade stand which again, ties our community leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. I am so very excited for the first ever Lemonade Day in North Dakota this coming June. If you need a couple of tips for your lemonade day business venture, take a listen to these kids, who sound like they just might have the makings of a great business owner.

We unveiled the program at the January 22 Chamber banquet thanks to two enterprising youth (sons of my staff!). The program has received some nice attention lately including a front page story in the Williston Herald, a nice spot on the KXMD noon show, and will be visible at this Saturday’s Kid’s Day Out at the Raymond Center, and Marketplace for Kids on April 28 at Williston State College.

Do you want to make a difference? Mentor a young entrepreneur through the Williston Area Chamber of Commerce’s Lemonade Day 2015.

Be involved. Make a difference.


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Toughest part of this job

Image result for leadership thinking

I’ve been a nonprofit executive for 14 years now, first as a government relations director for a state-wide trade association (electric industry), now as the head of our Chamber of Commerce. I am forever frustrated with one function of this position.

Without question the executive action that causes me the most grief is when we have to say “no.” But what leads a nonprofit executive to say no might surprise you. (Well of course it’s lack of staff, time and money).

It’s easy to say no to ideas which cannot be afforded due to investment of time and resources.

  • “We really don’t have enough staff to tackle that project”
  • “We didn’t budget for that piece of equipment this year”
  • “I doubt we could accomplish that event given the time allotted”

Those “no’s” are easy. The hardest “no’s” to administer are related to projects, ideas, and events that fall outside your organization’s mission, but still have merit. I worked in state government for a time, and it just pained me to hear a fellow worker say, “It’s not my job.” Bureaucratic babble. Human beings, people, can make individual split decisions and choices to help or hinder, to fix or forget.

In the organizational world however, saying yes to things outside your direct mission can be costly. We call that organizational mission creep.

The danger of organizational creep is it will sneak up like a stealth bomber. Innocent ideas, great projects, and awesome events sound great in a meeting or at the bar. But OMC (Organizational Mission Creep) can cause good staff to leave, budgets to burst and help executives to be “transitioned” (fired). The company may look really busy, but if what you’re doing doesn’t fall into your mission, does that make it right? It is the CEO’s job to keep the main thing, the main thing.

Here’s a good article from looking at key ways to avoid mission creep. I have to keep reminding myself, my staffImage result for organizational mission and our volunteer leaders that just because it sounds great or it worked last time, doesn’t mean it’s part of our core mission. Frances Hesselbein, head of the Girl Scouts during its major growth period asks the best question, one that I ask daily.

If we do this, will it further the mission?

Good ideas, great projects, exciting new ventures, and important community contributions can get left in file folders and on Evernote screens because the idea may not fall into direct mission of your organization. For a growing Chamber in the fastest growing City in the US, that is gut-wrenching.

However, saying no to something that may cause mission creep, as tough as it is, might be the most important decision you make today.

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